When Illinois plays at Minnesota in a Big Ten Conference game Saturday, the small-ball lineup with Paul, Richardson and Bertrand is expected to start for the sixth time in the last seven games, and the lineup will likely be the foundation heading into next season.

MINNEAPOLIS -- They have their own versions of history.


Who committed first -- Illinois junior guard D.J. Richardson or classmate Brandon Paul?


While the news first leaked about Richardson during his junior year at Peoria Central High School, Paul said he was actually the first one to make the call.


"I found out D.J. was going to commit,'' said Paul, the former Gurnee Warren star. "I committed a little before him. He made his announcement before I did.''


Of course, Richardson has his own spin, and his story is generally regarded as the true tale, one confirmed by coach Bruce Weber.


"I committed first, then Brandon,'' he said. "We were talking about it was the right thing to do.''


Nevertheless, they both pledged their commitments to the Illini on the same day.


Before the next 24 hours were gone, Illinois also had another commitment, this one from Joe Bertrand of Sterling. It came after some lobbying from Richardson, a hoops socialite who was pitching the idea of a three-guard lineup.


When Illinois takes a two-game losing streak to Minnesota for a Big Ten Conference game Saturday, the small-ball lineup with Paul, Richardson and Bertrand is expected to start for the sixth time in the last seven games, and the lineup will likely be the foundation heading into next season.


In fall 2007, everyone was looking for the next Dee Brown, Deron Williams or Luther Head. Highly regarded prep stars, the commitments from Paul, Richardson and Bertrand gave the Illini recruiting momentum when coupled with the earlier decision from Waukegan's Jereme Richmond.


"People were saying we could be the next Dee, Deron and Luther,'' Richardson said. "We wanted to be on the floor together.''


It's hard living up to that comparison, but these best friends finally made it on the court together when Bertrand developed and Weber went with a small-ball lineup.


With commitments from Richardson and Paul, Bertrand initially felt like the guy left out. Four seasons ago, the Illini were taking the first two commitments at guard.


"I told his high school coach and family that if he really wanted to come, I'd talk to the other kids and their families,'' Weber said. "They all felt it was the right thing to do.''


Weber, meanwhile, needed to project how this would work. If he was taking three guards, he likely wanted one of them to be a point guard.


"It's not always who you can get,'' Weber said. "It's piecing it together. It's so important. It's crazy how you end up with Joe playing kind of a power forward, if you want to call it that.''


Richardson made calls to the Illini coaching staff about taking Bertrand, and Weber went with it, even if he was signing three players with roughly the same skills.


"Kids are a little naive,'' Weber said. "They don't realize that guy might the guy who is beating you out.


"They're all kind of that swing man. Brandon gives you a little bit of a point, but not a true point. I didn't know if they'd be able to all play together.''


Playing a four-guard lineup "sometimes makes it easier on me because you spread the floor,'' said Illini center Meyers Leonard. "Sometimes, it's hard. They can double and throw different things at me.''


Rarely apart after they committed together, Richardson and Bertrand share an apartment. Paul is usually close by.


Richardson is the social butterfly who has 100 pairs of shoes in the closet, and that's after he gave some away. Paul is the social media darling, and Bertrand serves as the comedian, whether his act is a one-liner or a goofy video on his phone.


"Pretty much any time he opens his mouth, it's crazy,'' Paul said.


After Bertrand's career was slowed by a knee injury and a medical redshirt his freshman season, they are on the court together.


"The time finally came when we're out there together,'' Richardson said. "We're all three brothers. We're going to keep fighting and trying to get something out of this.''


John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.


*****


Illinois (15-5, 4-3) vs. Minnesota (15-6, 3-5)


7 p.m., Williams Arena, Minneapolis (BTN, Illini Sports Network)


ILLINOIS (15-5, 4-3)   ppg     rpg


F Joe Bertrand 6-5 So. 7.1 2.6


C Meyers Leonard 7-1 So. 13.3 7.8


G Brandon Paul 6-4 Jr. 14.0 4.8


G D.J. Richardson 6-3 Jr. 12.7 3.0


G Tracy Abrams 6-1 Fr. 2.7 2.5


 


MINNESOTA (15-6, 3-5)     ppg   rpg


F Rodney Williams 6-7 Jr. 10.9 5.8


F Ralph Sampson III 6-11 Sr. 8.4 4.9


G Austin Hollins 6-4 So. 8.4 2.0


G Joe Coleman 6-4 Fr. 6.1 2.1


G Julian Welch 6-3 Jr. 10.5 2.2


 


Noteworthy: Illinois won its last two games against Minnesota. The Illini defeated the Gophers 81-72 in double overtime in the Big Ten opener and 71-62 last season in Minneapolis. Illinois has won nine of its last 10 games at Minnesota and 23 of the last 25 against the Gophers, dating back to the Big Ten Tournament in 1999. … Paul had 21 points and Leonard 20 in the first meeting this season with Minnesota. … Illinois' last five games were decided by five points or less, the longest streak in conference play in 83 years.


Key for Illini: Cut down on the turnovers and improve shot selection.


Key for Gophers: Make the Illini pay for playing a smaller lineup.


Key quote: "We're three guards who have helped this program get where we need to be. We've taken a step forward from last year.'' -- Illini guard D.J. Richardson.


Prediction: Minnesota 64, Illinois 62